The Round the Island Race is not just a compelling spectacle, but is a racetrack with wind shadows, tidal eddies, rocks, wrecks and sandbanks to contend with, writes Peter Bruce
The great eddy
This is the place to invariably aim for. Here the stream runs south east for 8 out of 12 and can give you one knot of positive current, whilst those half a mile out to sea can be in two knots of foul tide, as well as being caught on the outside a large wind bend.
Chale Bay covers the last three miles of the leg to St Catherine’s Point, between the Atherfield Ledge and the point itself. One word of caution, watch out for wind shadows caused by the high cliffs around Blackgang Chine.
Rocks: Don’t push your luck!
There are two significant rock ledges that need to be taken seriously when working close to the shore to pick up the tidal advantages. Brook Ledges are a series of parallel rocks running out to sea that are awash at chart datum.
Feeling your way in on an echo sounder alone, may work for the Lee-on-Solent shore and then tacking with less than a metre under the keel, but is not recommended when negotiating the rocks off the south of the Island. Be more cautious, as these rocks protrude vertically in relation to the surrounding seabed.
This probably creates the greatest menace for yachts along the south west of the Island and has proved the graveyard for several ships over the years. Sticking out between Brightstone Bay and Chale Bay, it is easy to get attracted by gains close to the shore and over look Typet Ledge, The Mexon and The Bench that together form the worst of Atherfield Ledge, that extend 500m offshore. Each year these rocks get a bashing on Round the Island Race Day.
Whilst trading tacks close to a Farr 40 in this area a few years ago, the gain was always to be had for the boat that ventured closest to the shore in the 12-knot SE wind. Just prior to the Ledge, we tacked off a little early; whilst the Farr 40 continued inbound another four boat lengths on starboard tack. I was just starting to answer the question as to why we had wimped out early, when there was a huge bang.
We turned around thinking our neighbour had broken her mast. The mast was in tact, but the rudder was momentarily out of the water as her keel struck Typet Ledge, stopping her dead from seven knots. She had already tacked, but got caught on her exit.
Monitor the opposition
Get the crew on the rail working for you whether it is looking for a particular mark, or keeping an eye on the opposition. Get one of the crew to take bearings of the opposition, with a hand-bearing compass.
Monitors boats both sides of you and get the person taking the bearings to report just the relative trends, of whether you are gaining or losing. If you are losing out, do something about it; is the problem, weed, sail trim, tide or less wind etc?
Chale Bay to St Catherine’s Point
You can sail quite close to the shore past Blackgang Chine and onto Watershoot Bay, just short of the Point. There are several rocks in Watershoot Bay, though close in. Shag Rock is the largest of these, though is pretty obvious and close to the shore. It is here that the favourable eddy runs out and you hit the full brunt of the strong tidal stream running south of St Catherine’s Point.
It is usually here that the tacking/gybing action is about to begin in earnest as you work to cheat the tide. If you are lucky enough to get here in favourable tide, aim for about 600m offshore, where the tide is very strong, though often kicks up a nasty sea.
Cheating the tide
There is a large tidal stream differential, in terms of strength, between 50m from the shore and a quarter of a mile out and is usually worth the effort of routing as close as possible without hitting the bricks.
Keep a sharp eye out for lobster pots, each year there always seems to be a couple of pots with a long trailing rope, waiting to ensnare the unwary. Lobster pots always give free information of the tidal stream, which varies so much in this area, so take heed.
Monitor the progress of the boats around you; check if you are losing out by going too far out to sea on each tack. Also consider if you tacking too often? Some boats take along time to get back up to optimum speed and tacking to often can be a killer.
If there is a lot of traffic in this area keep a sharp eye out and consider leaving the trimmer to leeward, as collisions happen in this area each year. One final point, as you approach the shore, start looking for a clear lane out, to maintain clear air well before you have to tack.
Stand by the shrouds
When tacking close to rocks, it is often possible to look down into the water and spot them as you approach. The water around this part of the Island is usually quite clear, and rocks can be spotted if the sun is overhead. This technique is not recommended on a cloudy day…
Watch out for the infamous Church Rocks just to the east of Ventnor Pier. There are actually two sets of rocks here, Wheelers Bay rocks just south of the church with a spire at Bonchurch, with the highest being Cat Rock and Church Rocks themselves half a mile east of the pier. A decent clearing bearing is 255m on the end of Ventnor Pier.